Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Praise for Athenian Legislation.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003
page 10 of 11
The Athenians do seem to have been, on the whole, proud of the distinction between decrees and laws. Aeschines, for example, asks and answers a rhetorical question pitting the decrees of the Assembly, which were easy to pass, against the laws, which were subject to the complex procedures for legislation: “Why do you suppose it is, fellow citizens, that the existing laws are good, but that the decrees of the city are inferior to them, and that the verdicts rendered in the courts are sometimes open to censure? I will explain to you the reason. It is because you enact the laws with no other object than justice, not moved by unrighteous gain, or by either partiality or animosity, looking solely to what is just and for the common good. And because you are, as I think, naturally, more clever than other men, it is not surprising that you pass most excellent laws. But in the meetings of the Assembly and in the Courts, you oftentimes lose all hold of the discussion of the matter in hand, and are led away by deceit and trickery” (Aeschin. 1.177-178).
Demosthenes praises this practice of legislating (
Read about the evidence
Lycurgus (Lyc. 1).
As for the laws themselves, the products of the complex and carefully designed process of
And Demosthenes tells a jury, “I shall say nothing novel or extravagant or peculiar, but only what you all know to be true as well as I do. For if any of you cares to inquire what is the motive-power that calls together the Council, draws the people into the Assembly, fills the law-courts, makes the old archons resign readily to the new, and enables the whole life of the State to be carried on and preserved, he will find that it is the laws and the obedience that all men yield to the laws; since, if once they were done away with and every man were given licence to do as he liked, not only does the constitution vanish, but our life would not differ from that of the beasts of the field” (Dem. 25.20).
The procedures for enforcing the laws are a subject more appropriate to a discussion of the “People’s Court”.
page 10 of 11